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The Magic of Japanese Summer Firework Festivals

The summer of Japan is filled with events and festivals. Firework festivals belong to the highlights of this time of the year and you can find them everywhere around Japan. So let us take a look together and find out what you can experience when visiting a Japanese Summer Firework Festival.
Firework time ♥

Japanese Firework Festivals

 
Firework festivals are called Hanabi Taikai (花火大会) in Japanese and they already have a long history. It is said that the first Japanese fireworks started in 16th century. This was the time when gun powder was brought to Japan by foreign traders. The shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu was impressed by the displayed fireworks and allowed the import and production in Japan. 
 
The entertainment with fireworks soon became a tradition in the summer season. Also, Japanese people got more and more specialized in this field, so the Japanese pyrotechnist now belong to the best in the world. And even the beauty of the firework display itself is internationally known.  
 
There are different types of effects which all have their own names. Most common ones are starmines called Peony and Chrysanthemum, which break up as a big colorful ball of stars in the dark sky. For sure, there are also circles and fountains and many other shapes, but I personally am always impressed when the firework falls down like a golden rain. Sometimes you are also lucky and the firework display includes smileys, stars, hearts or even characters like Pikachu and Anpanman in the sky. 
 
Especially July and August is the best time to visit a summer firework festival in Japan. They are held every weekend and sometimes even on weekdays. So there is no chance to miss it. If you are in Japan while another season it might become difficult to find a firework festival, but not completely impossible. If you can read Japanese, this website is really perfect to find out about events all around Japan.
Tamagawa Firework Festival

What you need to take care of

 
If you are planning to attend a firework festival, there are several things you should be prepared for. 
 
Firs,t you should know that most firework displays in Japan will last for one or two hours. From my home country I am used of short fireworks, where 30 minutes already feels like an eternity. In Japan you can watch it with music added and divided in different scenes and stories. Even so one hour sounds long, you will see how quickly it will pass by and it won’t get boring because of all the effect changes. To sit down, take a ground sheet with you or something else what feels convenient for you.
 
Be sure that there will be a lot of people! And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. Some festivals are watched by hundred thousand visitors. The areas around the event place are crowded – including buses and trains - and you will need a lot of time to get from one place to another. Try to go to the festival early if you want to be in time and get a good seat. Also be sure it will take some time for you to get back home, because the steets will be stucked when all the people want to leave at the same time. Furthermore, if you plan to stay at the place over night, book your hotel early, or it will become hard to find anything if you don’t want to spend a big amount of money. 
 
If you want to have a guaranteed good spot for watching, there are also seats you need to get a ticket for in advance. Changing between the events these tickets can cost around 10,000 yen and are sold out quickly.
People waiting for the firework display to start.

Typical food at firework festivals

 
For sure firework festivals are not only about fireworks. They have a typical festival character including food and game stalls lined up along the streets. These stalls are called Yatai (屋台) in Japanese. 
 
Because the firework festivals often start right after sunset, it is the perfect timing to have some street food for dinner.  The stalls sale typical Japanese food, but also other international food, which might surprise you. Here I have a overview for you:
 
  • Yakisoba (焼きそば): one of the most common and easiest dishes, including fried noodles, onion, cabbage, meat, and so on.  
  • Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き): the so called Japanese pancakes are very popular, mainly consisting of flour, eggs, cabbage and pork. It is topped with Okonomiyaki sauce and often katsuobushi. Sometimes even the Hiroshima version is offered. 
  • Takoyaki (タコ焼き): These baked balls are filled with octopus in the center. 
  • Jagabata (じゃがバター): Potatoes steamed in a wooden oven and usually topped with salt and butter. 
  •  Sausages: different kinds of sausages, including Frankfurter sausages (フランクフルト) spiked on a wooden stick or American Dog (アメリカンドッグ), in America called corn dog, which is a sausage rolled into cornbread batter and fried. 
  • Yakitori (焼き鳥): chicken on a stick fried on hot plates or a grill, however, also other sorts of meat are offered this way.
  • Karaage (唐揚げ): deep fried chicken chunks, often severed inside a paper cup. 
  • Döner Kebab (ケバブ): Not Japanese, but often offered at festival, the pita bread pockets filled with meat, cabbage and other things are really delicious. 
 
Food stalls at firework festival.
But they don’t only have hearty food at the festival, you also can buy sweets!
 
  • Kakigoori (かき氷): shaved ice topped with different tasting syrups. Perfect for hot summer nights! 
  • Wataame (綿あめ or 綿菓子): cotton candy often put inside plastic bags decorated with popular anime characters.
  • Choco Banana (チョコバナナ): very popular banana coated with chocolate and other sweet stuff. 
  • Baby Castella (ベビーカステラ): castella is a famous Japanese sponge cake. At festivals you find the baby version in shape of small balls or even as characters like Pikachu, Hello Kitty, Doraemon, etc. 
 
Kakigoori - shaved ice.
These are only some of the different foods sold at firework festivals. There are even more! As you see, you won’t stay hungry. And for sure, also soft drinks, beer and chu-hi are cooled down in water tanks and sold to the costumers. 
 

Yukata as fashion highlight

 
Yukata (浴衣) is the summer version of kimono, consisting only of one layer of cotton fabric. Normally they are worn in onsen towns, but they became popular on summer festivals recently.  For women yukata have really colorful designs often including flowers or traditional patterns. Also the belts are tied in several ways and there are a lot of accessories to wear.  The prices for yukata sets range from cheap 3,000 yen to really expensive ones of no price limits. It is always a feast for the eyes to see all the people walking around in these traditional clothes. However, going there in casual knockabout clothes is also pretty normal.
Yukata women on the street.
Surely, also men can wear yukata, which often have darker colors like black and blue. You can especially see couples together in such outfits.  Also Jinbei (甚平) are common nowadays. They consist of a top and a matching shorts. Not only men are wearing them, also young women, children and even babys.  
 
Another nice accessory is uchiwa (団扇), a flat Japanese fan. They have nice designs and sometimes you can get a plastic version with advertisement for free on the street. It is really good to keep your body cool.
 
Left: Yukata with Uchiwa at the bow. Right: Female Jinbei.
 
That’s it! I hope you will have a lot of fun if you are attending a firework festival in Japan this summer or maybe someday in the future. I can’t wait for it anymore! ♥
 

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3 comments

Thanks for the informative article! My friends and I are planning to go in a few years to see a festival but we don't know much about it. Do you know where these festivals are held in Tokyo? And also, for the kimono shops, do they sell yukatas around the time of the festival only or all year long?

There are really many fireworks around the Tokyo area. Easiest might be just to google for "Tokyo firework" and you will get a long list. One is here, but for sure dates are always subjects to be changed: https://bestlivingjapan.com/2017-top-tokyo-summer-fireworks/

About the Yukata. These are mainly sold around the summer time and you can find a lot of these every there. Especially Kimono shops and department stores are selling them, but you also can get cheap ones as a set at Don Quijote. Outside the season, it is more difficult to find yukata. Probably some shops are still selling them, but yes, might be hard to find. Then I would rather recommand buying one in the internet.